Hurricanes Batter National Parks, Budgets

Date:   September 22, 2004
Contact:   Andrea Keller Helsel, NPCA, 202-454-3332

Hurricanes Batter National Parks, Budgets

Washington, D.C. - The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior voicing concern that recent hurricanes and storms have strained the national parks’ tight budgets. The nonpartisan parks advocacy group encouraged the Department of Interior to request sufficient emergency funding from Congress.

“The administration needs to request—and Congress appropriate—adequate funding to compensate for the frequent acts of Nature that besiege our parks,” said NPCA President Tom Kiernan. “Otherwise, storms drown the parks and their budgets.”

Hurricane Ivan washed out several miles of roads, flooded parking lots, and destroyed pavilions at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Mississippi. All buildings in the park’s historic area were flooded, including historic Fort Pickens, built in 1834 in Pensacola, Florida, and a visitor center. Additionally, the storm wiped out about two-thirds of turtle nesting sites at Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore. The Kittatinny Point Visitor Center at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in New Jersey was flooded and roads and trails washed out.

Prior to Hurricane Ivan, the Department of Interior had requested $7.6 million in emergency funding for Park Service repairs resulting from Hurricanes Charley and Frances. “The total cost will likely now far exceed that,” Kiernan warned.

Hurricane Charley slammed into Dry Tortugas National Park in August, causing extensive damage and exacerbating the park’s existing maintenance backlog. The storm undermined a portion of the first layer of bricks surrounding Fort Jefferson’s moat wall, damaged two boat docks, and washed out a land bridge that joined Garden Key, where the 150-year-old fort is located, and nearby Bush Key.

Even before the hurricane, Dry Tortugas staff had been struggling to keep up with maintenance needs, including eroding mortar, weakening brickwork, and corroding wrought ironwork. Recent hurricanes also affected Everglades National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway; storms elsewhere this August caused extensive flooding at Death Valley National Park in California, destroying roads and visitor facilities.

Damage caused by such storms raises concerns about whether national parks have adequate funding and staffing to prepare for and recover from weather emergencies. Research has shown that national parks already operate, on average, with only two-thirds of the needed funding—a system-wide shortfall in excess of $600 million annually.

Last year, Hurricane Isabel caused nearly $100 million worth of damages at several national parks, including Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia, where a basement of artifacts was flooded.

“The National Park System never received the additional funding necessary to recover from that hurricane,” Kiernan said, “and it is imperative that the same mistake not be made again.”

Both presidential candidates have articulated plans for addressing the funding needs of the national parks. The fiscal year 2005 Interior Appropriations Bill, which includes funding for the annual needs of the parks, may go to conference as early as this month.

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